The Carter administration received another big setback yesterday in its controversial effort to begin taxing fringe benefits - a vote by the House Ways and Means Committee to delay any changes until the year after next.
In a surprise move, the panel approved legislation that would prohibit the Treasury and the International Revenue Service from issuing any regulations on taxation of fringe benefits that would take effect before December 31, 1979.
The bill also would bar the IRS from issuing new rules this year or next affecting the deductability of commuting expenses for persons assigned to a temporary work place. That issue also has become controversial.
The vote toughened an earlier order by the committee that effectively barred IRS from issuing final regulations on either issue before July 1. The IRS had planned to propose draft regulations next month.
The move to tax certain fringe benefits has been a key goal to top administration tax officials, particularly Jerome Kurtz, the commissioner of IRS. Kurtz has argued that fringes are a form of income, just like wages.
The action came as, separately, the panel decided to ask one of its subcommittees to draft new legislation affecting the taxation of Americans living abroad, in order to help resolve a Senate-House dispute over the issue.
Both houses already have passed legislation this year to delay a second time a 1976 provision that would have toughened the tax treatment of American citizens overseas, but the conferees are split over what to do next.
The subcommittee, headed by Rep. Joe D. Waggonner (D-La.), is expected to draft legislation that effectively would liberalize the tax treatment in effect before the 1976 change. The Senate bill is somewhere in between.
The committee acted after IRS announced on Wednesday it was extending the deadline by which Americans living abroad must file their income-tax returns. The new deadline is August 15, compared to June 15 before.
The IRS acted after it became apparent that House-Senate conferees would not complete agreement on the new legislation before the original June 15 deadline. The deadline for overseas filers was extended last year as well.
The decision to delay any quick action on taxation of fringe benefits came a day after the House Appropriations Committee approved a separate prohibition barring the use of funds to issue or enforce new rulings on fringes.
Yesterday, Donald C. Lubick, assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy, told the Ways and Means Committee the administration had decided to study the whole question, and not issue final rules until October 1979.
Lubick said IRS agents had run into differing practices involving fringe benefits in various sections of the country, and needed more time to develop a broad policy on the issue.
The Treasury originally considered proposing formal legislation to tax fringe benefits as part of its massive "tax reform" package being developed last September. But officcials dropped the matter after it stirred controversy.